Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jungle Flying

I finally took the plunge and decided to book a  in Chiang Mai.
I was picked up in a car at the horrendous time of 06:40, then the driver went round in circles for a bit till he found another couple of people. Then drove to the highway and swapped from car to van. We proceed quickly down past Doi Saket and beyond, then turn right onto a narrow road. A long winding road uphill, twists and turns, guess this is part of the adventure!

We arrive at the office and grab a helmet, harness and a "hi-tec nanotechnology braking device" (a stick). Once everybody is harnessed up, we march through the village to the first station. Not much hanging about, there are 34 stations to travel through. From the small platform, you are quickly hooked onto the zipline, and safety attach. Told to lean back and sit down, and then "Go!", you zip down the line and the other guide at the receiving end helps you, unhooks you and attaches the safety to a line running round the tree trunk. Then you shuffle round the trunk ready for the next one.

Takes a bit of getting used to, I keep spinning round and arriving backwards which is awkward, not too much you can do, try and wave your arms or legs was the suggestion, but I think I'll just keep my white knuckles clenching the rope.

Then comes the longer ones! We need to use the stick by pulling down on the line using the friction too slow down. Somehow I ended up first, but spun round going backwards, so can't see the platform. Then guy shouted "BRAKE" as previously instructed, then something else, which turned out to be "HARDER!", so I kinda bounced off him. Just as well for the helmets. Later he was saying you need to use your brake, I'm not ABS! There is only 2 sections were you need to use the brake, the second one went much better, easier when you are going forward.

Just before a quick snack break, we slide along another zipline, this one had the best view I would say, as you are in a break in the jungle, the photo on the jungle flight website shows it well, it does actually look like this!

On one of the section we got hooked on the back for a superman style ride, nothing to hang on with your hands, and the worst part is you need to lean into the void to leave the platform.

Another 12 more or so zipline and 1 more abseil, hooked on the back. Then back on terra firma! The guide at the end decided to go head first.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ayutthaya, Korat & Khon Kaen

I decided to head down to Ayutthaya at the last minute. I nipped over to the station to pick up a train ticket, and found out the usual 9pm sleeper train has been cancelled. So I ended up getting one at 17.30. Enough time to go back and pack a bag, before u-turning back to the station.

The train rumbles along slowly, after Lampang the train attendant comes round and makes your bed. Try to snooze, but didn't sleep much. Trundled into Ayutthaya early morning, long time on the train. I'd booked a room near the historical park, didn't look that far away. One songtaew later I arrived. I headed up to try and find a reasonable bicycle to rent, but nothing like a mountain bike here. Ended up with an old clunker, still at least it had straight handerbars and not these horrible U shaped ones that are common.

Ayutthaya was a Kindgom between 1350 to 1767, a busy trading port during these times, situated on the Chao Praya river, which flows South through Bangkok. Spread over several square miles, the remnants of the Kingdom are still here to see. Grand temples, some ruined, some rebuilt. I pedalled around the sights, such as the oft-photographed Buddha head in tree. Also Wat Phra Si Sanphet a large complex strewn across the grounds, which was formerly the old palace compound.

Further afield, I visited some temples across the river. Including one chedi standing grandly, now situated on a flat rice field. Seems to take a longer route than necessary and ended up on a very dusty road that presumbably is being resurfaced. Eventually arrived at the impressive Wat Chaiwatthanaram, but unfortunately closed for restoration to could only look from afar. That night I ate at a the busy Sai Thong riverside restaurant, a strange
duck with random bits dish.

Next day I cycled over to Wat Phanan Choeng, with thousands of Buddhas sitting in niches, and a huge central figure. When I was visiting there was a ceremony, where the cloth is brought over peoples head.

Back in town there was a huge firework display for the King's Birthday, causing traffic mayhem by blocking off one of the central roads. I returned my bike and walked back to the guesthouse, further than I thought!

Next day it was on the train into Isaan, the North-East region of Thailand. I got on the train, and found my seat squashed in beside a family. After a few hours, I stretched my legs, and looked out the windows. At the front of the train, you can actually look through the font window, as the driver is situated of to the left rather than right in the middle. A local guy with "Police" written across the back of his jacket is taking large gulps of whisky.

Eventually arrive in Korat, a small provinicial town. I thought it would be a bit bigger, not a whole lot here. Anyway I try some local food, phad mee korat, similar to phad thai. After that I find a barber and get a haircut and shave for 60 baht.I tried a busy Thai restaurant for dinner, and got a very bland dish, must have been specially prepared for the Farang.

Next day it was off to the bus station, as I only had a small bag, I jumped on a motorbike taxi, a quick way of getting around. My timing was good as I just caught the soon to depart bus to Khon Kaen. Actually it didn't leave when full, it left a bit after that. 3 or 5 hours later I arrived. I decided to just walk towards the large Pullman hotel, guessing that around there would a good location. I happened upon a guesthouse and got a nice room, if you're a hobbit. Doorway was about 5 ft tall!

Khon Kaen seems to be more lively than Korat, new buildings sprouting up. A big fancy Central Plaza mall, and lots of busy pubs. That night I ventured into Tawan Daeng for some Isaan music, accompanied by the locals strutting their dances moves, in a very thai style.

The only problem with coming out here, is the long journey back to Chiang Mai, about 12 hours. I headed to the bus station, only to find out only have night buses, so I bought a ticket for 7pm that night. I headed into the mall to pass some time and ended up watching Super Salary Man, a Thai drama about office life. Well, it passed the time!

At about 7.15, the guy next to me went to sleep and didn't move for the next 12 hours. The bus decided to occasionaly do a random roadside stop, people were on their phones, some banging about with the baggage hold, and then after 30 minutes on out way again. Then stop again, at a National Park in the mountains, the thermometer outside read just 1C. Wait around here for a bit with the bus staff shivering, then eventually get back on the road. Mystery stops.

Finally get back into Chiang Mai around 7AM, I jump into a songthaew and grab some breakfast before heading back home, knackered.